Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

A "New" Environment for the Horror Film: The Cave as Negation of Postmodernity and Globalization

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

A "New" Environment for the Horror Film: The Cave as Negation of Postmodernity and Globalization

Article excerpt

Caves have always generated a series of contrasting sensations in human beings, from fascination for a different place to fear of an unknown world (Bartolo and Fadda 5). Humanity itself owes much to caves in that it was able to survive, multiply, and spread all over the world partly thanks to them. Indeed, primitive humans used caves as safe refuges against enemies and wild beasts as well as to survive extremely cold temperatures by means of the minimum annual and daily heat range guaranteed by such environments (Boninu 11). Caves have also been studied by eminent philosophers and thinkers such as Plato, Aris- totle, and Leonardo da Vinci (Bartolo and Fadda 19) and have always fascinated the popular imagination, thus inspiring-in the past and present-many legends and folktales. For ex- ample, it is generally said that Jesus was born in a cave; hermits and prophets have used caves for meditation and revelation (Mohamed himself lived in a cave on mountain Hira); and Jews believe in the existence of Sheol, an end- less cavern in which Lucifer fell, and Macpelah, where Adam was created and Eve was buried (Bartolo and Fadda 6). These are but a few examples throughout the world of the concep- tions of caves as sacred places that must be respected. On the other hand, in some Greek and Roman myths and traditions, as much as during the Middle Ages, caves were thought of as the entrance to the afterlife or as the resi- dences of evil spirits, ferocious creatures such as dragons, and Satan (Bartolo and Fadda 6). This is epitomized by narratives such as the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, which depicts the dwelling of the murderous Grendel and his mother (the descendants of Cain) as a cave full of treasures below a lake (1506-28). Similarly, the entrance to the afterlife is a cave in Virgil's Aeneid (Orchard 44), and in Dante Alighieri's La Divina Commedia, hell is portrayed as a gigan- tic cavern reaching the center of the earth.

The exploration of a cave often generates in the visitor many of those feelings typically experienced by the characters of Gothic narra- tives, such as disorientation, "a claustrophobic sense of enclosure in space" (Baldick, qtd. in Dryden 35), and "an anxiety with no possibility of escape" (Praz, qtd. in Dryden 39). Other pos- sible reactions to such an environment include panic attacks, paranoia, visual and oral halluci- nations, and fear of the dark. It is probably for this reason that caves have been used as set- tings in several Gothic novels. Part of Matthew Lewis's 1796 The Monk, for example, is located in a cave under the monastery of the Capuchins in Madrid. Much importance is attributed to darkness as a primal source of horror for the characters and for the reader of the novel. The narrator reports that the "small sepulchral lamp . . . was too feeble to dissipate the thick gloom in which the vaults above were buried" (200-01) and "[a] profound obscurity hovered through the void" (202). In this narrative, the characters of Matilda and Ambrosio experi- ence darkness as a primary source of terror: "the profound obscurity with which they were overspread obliged them to walk slow and cau- tiously" (200). Subsequently, the monk Am- brosio, who is about to commit a sacrilege by witnessing a pact made by Matilda with Satan in order to satisfy his own luxurious passion for a young girl, finds himself alone: "dark- ness the most profound surrounded him, and encouraged the doubts which began to revive in his bosom . . . but as he had passed through innumerable caverns and winding passages, the attempt of regaining the stairs was hope- less. His fate was determined: no possibility of escape presented itself" (201).

Darkness thus appears to both epitomize and stimulate Ambrosio's confounded mind as much as the labyrinthine passages could be read as representing his contrasting thoughts on the sacrilegious evocation of Lucifer that he is about to witness. Indeed, he initially thinks that Matilda's forthcoming pact with the fallen agent will probably cause the condemnation of his soul for eternity, but he also believes that Matilda actually could be playing a trick on his mind by means of magic. …

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